Turkey Tail Mushroom near river cane
Horn of Plenty Mushrooms. Smell like Apricots
Graham County is one of the most wonderful spots on the East Coast of the United States to see mushrooms, lichens, mosses and ferns. All year long the mountains and valleys are filled with beauty, but you have to train yourself to look. For years, I hiked the trails and explored the stream banks and reveled in the birds, the trees and especially the wildflowers. Then I was introduced to my first wild-foraged mushroom by a friend of mine from Asheville, Mr. Alan Muskat. Alan came up to my property and led a mushroom hike to seek as many different mushrooms as we could find. I was astounded and fascinated. They were everywhere I looked!
Fungi can be large and tiny, range from bright blue to scarlet, and every color, shape and size between. I realized that all these years I had just not noticed them. I discovered that fungi are as much fun to seek out as wildflowers or birds and that Graham County was the perfect place to see and photograph them. To add to the fun, I learned the top ten, edible mushrooms that can be found here. It is thrilling to stroll out the back door and discover a gourmet mushroom that is sold for a high price at the grocery store. It can make you feel like royalty to dine on freshly picked mushrooms that you harvested yourself.
Many people have great concern about accidentally eating mushrooms that are poisonous. That is a valid concern. Just because something looks like it should be edible does not make it so. There are classes to be taken, guidebooks from which to learn and mushroom clubs available to join. If you plan to eat wild mushrooms you need to learn how to positively identify them.
Fungi can be found just about anywhere in the woods, but the best place to start is a trail that meanders along a mountain stream. Two of my favorites are Slickrock Trail, that is located quite close to the Tapoco Lodge along the Cheoah River, and the Stairway to Heaven Trail near the Fontana Resort. There is one important thing to remember. Mushrooms are not like wildflowers. They pop up and disappear in a day. When you discover a stunning group of tiny blue mushrooms nestled in green moss, stop and really focus on its beauty. Take a picture of it, or bring a sketch book and a pencil. Fungi photography is a growing passion in this country and there are Facebook pages studded with pictures of mushrooms and other fungi. The more you look, the more you will see. Palaces for fairies and ballrooms for elves can be spotted. A circle of white mushrooms in the middle of a pasture is called “A Fairy Ring”.
Several of our local restaurants can provide delicious mushroom appetizers, entrees and even desserts! Plan a few days, any time of the year, to enter a whole new world of beauty that few know exist. With hundreds of miles of hiking trails, Graham County is the perfect place to visit and soak in the peace and tranquility. The Appalachian Trail, The Bartram trail and The Benton MacKaye Trail can be explored here and you will find that you will feel refreshed and relaxed after spending a couple days walking slowly along forest paths and seeing, perhaps for the first time, the beauties of the mushroom kingdom.
Love to fish for trout and looking forward to fishing in Graham County? Graham County contains one of the very few hatchery supported streams in North Carolina that has a delayed harvest; Big Snowbird Creek. Sports Fishermen come from all over the country to take advantage of this golden opportunity. What exactly is a delayed harvest? Here in North Carolina it refers to a period of time, October 1 through the first Saturday in June, that is one of the most anticipated fishing seasons of the year.
Fly fishing is a challenging and fascinating endeavor. The Sports Fisherman attempts to trick the trout into thinking that the carefully constructed fly is actually an insect. The fly is chosen based on what insect is currently emerging and being consumed as food by the trout. The fisherman must also make the fly “behave” as closely as they can to the actual live insect. It is a triumph when the trout goes for the fly and is caught.
During delayed harvest, specific bodies of water are ruled as areas that may be fished only with artificial lures with one single hook. No natural bait may be possessed and no trout may be harvested or possessed while fishing these waters between October 1 and the first Saturday in June. This year the date delayed harvesting ends is on June 1, 2019. When trout fisheries are heavily stocked and strict “catch and release” rules are implemented it allows novice fishermen to get out and test their skills in an environment where fish are plentiful and competition from live bait fishermen is nonexistent.
Artificial bait is defined as any living or dead organism (plant or animal), or parts thereof or prepared substances designed to attract fish by the sense of taste or smell. This includes not only insects, but corn or bread or even artificial baits that have an attractant in the rubber!
Trout are raised in hatcheries and released on specific dates into all hatchery supported waterways. In North Carolina, Commission personnel will stock approximately 930,000 trout – 96 percent of which average 10 inches in length. The other 4 percent exceed 14 inches in length!
The delayed-harvest section at Snowbird starts at a foot bridge just above the Junction at the end of Big Snowbird Creek Road and extends about 2.8 miles downstream to a concrete bridge known locally as Chestnut Flat Bridge.
On the first Saturday every June, when delayed harvest officially ends for the year, only anglers under the age of 16 can fish between 6 A.M. and 12 P.M. After that, anyone can fish and keep up to 7 fish per day, with no size or bait restriction.
Whether you choose to fish in Hatchery supported streams, explore the rugged and enchanting headwater creeks and blue-line for beautiful Brook Trout or prefer fishing in the numerous lakes in Graham County, you can be assured that you will want to return again and again.
Every Fall we receive numerous phone calls from people who have questions about hiking during the hunting season. Throughout the fall, hunters are seeking deer, wild turkey, wild boar and bear in the forests of Western North Carolina. Visitors may notice trucks along the sides of the backcountry roads, surrounded by people dressed in camouflage and often, orange caps. Dogs wearing leather collars can be spotted trotting through the woods, seemingly lost and hungry. Some of the more common questions we are asked are answered below:
Q. How do I know when it is hunting season?
A. Do an internet search before you plan your hike. For example, search for hunting seasons in Western North Carolina.
Q. If I know it is hunting season, is it safe to hike?
A. Certainly. Many hunters actually appreciate hikers in the woods because they keep the animals moving from place to place. It is wise to wear something colorful that stands out when you are hiking at this time. That way you are not mistaken for a prey animal. Bright orange is best, but any bright color that is not usually seen in the woods is fine. Avoid wearing browns and greens or camouflage.
Q. other than bright clothing, what else can I do to avoid hunters during hunting season?
A. Stay on the established trails and make noise. Talk with your fellow hikers as you travel along the paths and make yourself noticeable. Head for the tops of mountains where you can be easily seen from a distance.
Q How do I know if hunting is allowed in the area I wish to hike?
A. Once again, the internet is your friend. Many hikers choose to hike in National and State Parks, Conservation areas or City Parks where hunting is often prohibited. There are a number of states where hunting is prohibited on Sundays. Also, avoid hiking at a time when hunters and the hunted are most active, usually dawn or dusk. Instead, plan your hike in the middle of the day.
Q. What if I see a hunter on the trail?
A. Hunters and hikers have a mutual love of the forest that has made us conservation allies. Hunters are often passionate protectors of the environment, and without them, our beloved hiking trails and national forests may not even exist. If you see a hunter ahead of you on the trail, quietly approach and greet the hunter, tell him you are hiking and where you plan to go. Be courteous and if the hunter requests that you wait or choose a different path because he is tracking an animal, consider doing so.
Q. I’ve run across dogs with radio collars as I have been hiking in the wilderness. They look so hungry. Are they lost? Should I take them into town?
A. Hunting dogs are normally very friendly and they are drawn to humans because their owners have been feeding them throughout the year. The owners are tracking their dogs and have trained them to wander through the woods looking for prey. Do not take them home with you! Do not feed them, no matter how tempting. Many of these dogs are very valuable and you could be arrested for theft. In most cases, the animals will walk with you for a little while and then veer off the trail into the woods.
Q. What if the dog is injured or seems lost?
A. The best thing you can do is to take down the phone number of the owner that is on the collar of the dog. Call and tell them (or leave a message) that you spotted their dog at a specific location so that they can go retrieve them.
Q. I like to hike with my dog, but is that safe to do during hunting season? My dog is very obedient and always comes when I call him.
A. Keep your beloved fur baby on a leash while you are hiking in areas where hunting is allowed. You dog may smell hunting dogs or the animals they are seeking and take off on a focused hunt themselves. Additionally, hunting dogs are trained to hunt, and they might decide that your dog is just the prey they are looking for. It is just too risky. All told, it would be wiser to keep your dog at home during hunting season.
Hunters and hikers, anglers and campers, photographers and wild foragers are all users of our public lands and none of them want to lose access to the public land that supports animal conservation. Environmentalists don’t want to lose our nation’s clean water, clean air, and unspoiled spaces. Hikers, campers, and the businesses that support them don’t want to lose trails, rivers, and campsites. Treat each other with courtesy and understanding as you interact and have fun!
Author: Kim Hainge
Over the centuries humans have dealt with death in many different ways. Much can be learned from a visit to a graveyard. Death of a loved one, especially when it was unexpected, is always devastating and the engraving on the gravestones can teach us about the history and culture of an area. There are numerous cemeteries along the Lakeshore Trail, many just off the trail corridor by a few feet. Have you ever wondered why?
In 1910 the W.M. Ritter Lumber Company began logging big trees in the Hazel Creek drainage area. They built the mill town of Proctor. The company moved out of the area in 1928. The Great Smoky Mountain Park purchased the land in 1934. Then in 1944 nearly 600 families were removed from this area due to the construction of a huge dam by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The Fontana dam was built to supply electricity to the Alcoa, Tennessee plant near Knoxville in support of the Nation’s wartime demand for metal for building airplanes. When the dam was constructed, Fontana lake was created and the water flooded the valley towns. More than half of the 600 families that were forced to leave their homes came from the area between Hazel Creek and Bryson City. That meant that they would have to leave behind their loved ones’ graves. In these earlier times when there were no large group cemeteries, people used to have burial plots near their family homes. These graves were usually marked with rough stones, rocks, or wood. Some of these graves were covered over with water, some relocated, but the majority were left where family members can still return and visit.
In early days, graves were mostly marked with the deceased’s name, age, and year of death. Gradually, churchyard burials evolved. Large, square-shaped tombstones were prepared from slate (1650-1900) or sandstone (1650-1890). The inscriptions carved on slate used to be shallow yet readable.
Public cemeteries evolved in the 19th century. Eventually, people started giving importance to the gravestones, headstones, footstones, etc. as a means to memorialize the dead. Headstones were sometimes engraved with a small epitaph or a few words about the deceased whether written by the individual himself or by someone else. Plus, they bore details like the date of birth and date of death of the departed loved one.
During the Victorian era (1837-1901), Queen Victoria’s loss of her beloved husband Albert in England changed the customs and practices associated with death here in North America. This period of time was marked with elaborate tombstones and headstones. The cemeteries appeared more like parks as they had lavish and decorated gravestones.
The North Shore Cemetery Association was and is a non-profit group organized for the purpose of preserving the graveyards and general history of the Fontana Basin. “Organized in 1977, with an immediate aim to gain general access to the cemeteries of the North Shore in conformity of the contractual agreements that formulated in 1943 between Federal, State and County Agencies. Another aim of the Association was the planning of decorations for the cemeteries along the North Shore of Fontana Lake as were held in the area before 1943 and the removal of families. It was and is made up of former residents and their descendants who lived in this area and whose land was taken for the building of the Fontana Dam and Basin area.” The Fontana Marina in Graham County has schedules telling when it is possible to take a pontoon boat out to the various cemeteries and recollect the past as you wander, respectfully, between the graves. If you go on a “Decoration Day”, you may be lucky enough to hear some of the old family stories from the descendants of the families that were forced to leave their homes.
A visitor will note the numerous gravestones marking the loss of children in the mountain graveyards. Before the time when vaccinations became available, disease took the lives of many newborns and youngsters. Many of the gravestones for the babies had no names and are simply marked with the words “Infant”.
While hiking the Lakeshore Trail, or when exploring on your own in the Park, remember that most of the cemeteries are not marked. Generally, if you see a trail going off to the side of the main trail with a “No Horses” sign, that trail usually leads to a cemetery. Wander respectfully and read the epitaphs on the stones. Each one tells a story, and gives us a tiny look at what it was like to live in these mountain communities. Kim Hainge, author
Fireflies in early summer can create memories that last a lifetime. Graham County, North Carolina, is the home of two very special species of firefly; the Synchronous firefly (Plotinus Carolinas) and the Blue Ghost Firefly (Pauses reticulate).
Prior to 1900, synchronous fireflies were known only to a privileged few in the Appalachian Mountains. Once the word got out, people came to the Great Smoky Mountain Park to see the fireflies’ spectacular light show on an annual basis. The site at Elmont can become so crowded during peak firefly times that some of the magic is lost to those who don’t enjoy crowds. They have even started a lottery for the privilege of being bused to the location. The good news is that synchronous fireflies also display at various locations in Graham County. The Joyce-Kilmer Memorial Forest is one of the newly discovered locations to view one of the only species of firefly in the United States that can synchronize their flashing light patterns.
During the first week of June, on a quiet, dark, rain-free evening, drive up to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest parking lot. Bring a flashlight covered with blue or red cellophane in order to retain your night vision. Park your car and creep up the trail to sit on a bench and watch the woods light up. At first, everything is pitch black, then, as suddenly as if someone had flicked a light switch, the woods light up like a Christmas tree. The lights continue flashing for about a minute and a half, then just as suddenly, everything is pitch black once again. Peak flashing for synchronous fireflies in the area normally occurs within a two-week period in mid-June from dark to about 11:00pm. It depends on the weather and the progression of spring.
An additional treat is that you will also see the wonderfully named Blue Ghost Firefly in the forest. This firefly is much smaller than the average firefly, about the size of a grain of rice. They appear for about one month of the year, usually June, and are most often seen around ten o’clock at night. Their blue-green light rarely blinks but glows continuously as the small firefly travels through the air and underbrush. This firefly can actually control the intensity of its light, from low to brilliant. It is easy to imagine that it could have been the inspiration for Pinocchio’s Blue Fairy.
Photograph courtesy of NPS
If you love beautiful flowers and great music, plan to attend our annual Flame Azalea Festival this year. Graham County is home to a one-of -a kind variety of native flame azalea and the history and beauty of this extraordinary plant is celebrated. This year the festival will be held on Friday, June 14th and Saturday, June 15th. The Hooper Bald Flame Azaleas have blossoms that can be as wide as 3 and 1/2 inches! The colors of the blossoms range from a scarlet red to a brilliant orange to a lemon yellow. Small numbers of these rare azaleas will be available for purchase during Saturday’s downtown festival so come early. The stalls open at noon.
Robbinsville and Graham County are very fortunate to have several existing public gardens exhibiting native azaleas. Azaleas begin to bloom in our county as early as May and continue to bloom, depending on elevation, through the end of June. The famed flame azaleas can be viewed on Hooper Bald along the Cherohala Skyway between Robbinsville and the Tennessee/North Carolina border in June. The Azalea Society has been nurturing these azaleas for over twenty years on the top of Hooper Bald. During the festival experienced guides and azalea experts will be available to answer questions and lead visitors through winding paths bordered by multicolored flame azaleas, rain or shine.
Huckleberry Knob, also on the Cherohala Skyway, is another favorable habitat for the native azaleas. A lovely hike rewards the visitor with beautiful vistas, opportunities for outstanding photos and a scattering of the same rare varieties of flame azalea that grow in abundance on Hooper Bald.
In nearby Stecoah, the Stecoah Valley Center features a memorial garden dedicated to a patron of this cultural center. At a much lower elevation, the azaleas are in full bloom in May and well worth the visit to the Center. The Center is housed in an old high school and includes a craft store featuring local artists’ work.
Blooming azaleas can be seen throughout the town and along highway 129 from May through June and helped to earn Robbinsville the title of “Azalea City”. During the festival this year, guided hikes to the Azaleas on Hooper Bald will be featured at 10:00, 12:00 and 2:00pm on Friday June 14th and at 10:00am on Saturday, June 15th.
A silent auction will take place on Saturday in downtown Robbinsville. The silent auction items will be available to view and bid on throughout the day. All proceeds from the auctions will benefit the Partners of Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness Inc. This volunteer, non-profit organization helps to maintain the numerous trails in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and the surrounding Wilderness in Graham County. Teeshirts celebrating the flame azalea will be sold on both days.
On Saturday, food, arts and crafts will be featured in downtown Robbinsville from noon to 5:00pm. Local musicians will be performing throughout the afternoon. Starting at 6:00pm there will be music and dancing at the town square.
We hope you will plan your visit during this time and add a few extra days before and after to enjoy the natural beauty of the area.